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Nightmare on Broadway

October 29, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

My daughter wants to be a witch this Halloween. Last week, she worked on a potion that she hoped would turn her brother into a spider. The other day, I took her for a walk along Broadway. I wanted to show her the spooky decorations, maybe provide her with a bit of inspiration for her Halloween escapades. We were impressed with the cadaverous clowns and scary scarecrows, skeletons and necro-brides, cats with no more lives, corpses rising from gaping coffins. Towards the end of our trek, I asked her if she wanted a treat from Mochaberry. She pointed to a bench.

“Daddy, that one’s moving.”

A man. Living —barely. He was picking at food from a take-out container —potatoes, grey pieces of meat. He looked as if he was melting inside of his clothes; he was covered in a thin layer of dirt.

My daughter was fixed to the spot. It was as if she was looking at a ghost. I didn’t want to tell her to stop staring. If I did, I’d be telling her that there was something wrong with the man, something shameful about him. I want my children to see the world as it is.

My daughter looked up at me and said: “Let’s see if he wants a coffee, too!”

I first learned about homelessness and poverty through literature, through the stories of Nelson Algren and James Agee; from books like The Grapes of Wrath, A Walk on the Wild Side, Of Mice and Men. These works introduced me to a world I had gazed at from a distance — the inside of a car, the other side of windshield; from inside a bus passing through a city; from the other side of the street. These writers taught me to see the contradictions that exist in our world, the gap that exists between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. I was so moved, confused, angry. I had to go out and see things for myself. I put down the books and picked up a camera.

I have photos that will always stick with me: the picture of a man, sleeping on a corner, under a tattered blanket, outside of the Toronto District Heating Corporation in minus 20-degree weather. I remember a night in downtown Ottawa, the Parliament buildings lit up like a castle, a fortress, while down below, a man, draped in shadows, begging for change outside of the Burger King. In Chicago, I snapped a picture of a homeless man rummaging through a trash can, behind him a hot dog stand with a sign that read: ‘America’s Dog’. There are more.

However, over time I started to see something else. I noticed the distance that still existed between me and the person I was shooting. I wasn’t taking portraits or asking for their permission —there was only distance, separation. I was taking pictures from behind them, across the street from them, with a zoom lens, sometimes while they slept. I may as well have been taking pictures of a bale of hay, a bowl of fruit, a sleeping dog. I wasn’t any closer to understanding my subject. Only distance. I started to see my camera as a weapon. Looking at those pictures I felt nothing but a sense of guilt. I didn’t even know their names.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those days, as of late. That juxtaposition that I spied in London, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney, I’m now seeing in the town of Orangeville. Let’s take a walk along Broadway and I’ll show you:  

There: sitting in front a bank that made $3.55 billion in the third quarter of this year.

There: a tent pitched in the parkette across from Metro, Harmony Whole Foods, Forage Fine Dining.

There: sitting in front of the Shell gas station (Shell made a profit of $3.3 billion in the first quarter of 2021).

There: in the early morning, sleeping on the pavement, in front of the most prominent law firm in town.

There and there: on a street lined with Audi’s, BMWs, and people weighed down by shopping bags, pushing $800 strollers, munching on $6 croissants, chasing it with a $4 cup of coffee, a $12 smoothie.

Now: All of this happening just two weeks after Thanksgiving, a week before Halloween, a couple of months before Christmas. And yet, there he sits, with everything he owns packed inside of six shopping carts. Over there, a man picking through trash, eating cold potatoes and meat. In a town where a bungalow sells for $200,000 over asking. Where every second house is going through a renovation. Where the local Food Bank is struggling to keep up with demand.

Look, I don’t want to experience poverty; I’m not sure I could survive. I have to accept that fact that I can only view it from the outside; but there’s more that I can do than just watch and observe.  I’ve joined the Men’s Homeless Committee (we’re trying to get a shelter built). Yesterday, I baked two loaves of bread; I took one to the man sitting outside the Pizza Pizza. I can write, share and start a conversation.

When we come back with his double-double and butter tart, there was a young family sitting next to the man. The mother had her daughter on her lap. She was holding her camera up in the air, taking a selfie with her $1500 phone. They paid zero attention to the man sitting next to them. I wonder if he made his way into the photo; I wonder if they’d even notice.



         


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